The first leg of the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final between Malaysia and Thailand at Bukit Jalil National Stadium turned out to be almost akin to an attack versus defence training match with Malaysia being the former.
However despite having 63.2% of the ball possession, six corner kicks and 16 attempts at goal; the most crucial number on the scoreboard remains zero for Malaysia. While managing to deny Thailand a vital away goal, the result ultimately left Malaysia with a mountain to climb in the return leg.
Tan Cheng Hoe kept faith with the side that produced a final group game win over Myanmar that saw them progressing through to this stage of the competition and was rewarded with an enterprising display particularly in the first 45 minutes of the match.
Chances after chances went begging with Mohamadou Sumareh and Norshahrul Idlan Talaha guilty of squandering gilt-edged chances to give Malaysia a first leg win. Cheng Hoe in the post-match press conference admitted that it would have been a much better result had his players be less profligate in front of goal.
"I'm happy with the fact that we didn't concede. Players played one of their best games in the tournament. They had good focus and intensity but unfortunately we missed a few chances. It will be a tough match in Bangkok and we'll need to improve our composure in front of goal."
"Thailand made one or two changes in the second half that prevented us from playing how we did in the first half. But overall we created plenty of chances now compared to past games. What is important is that the players need to be confident when in a goal scoring position and be smarter to finish those chances," said Cheng Hoe.
The match also saw two players in Sumareh and Syazwan Andik picking up injuries and with only four days turnaround before the second leg comes around, Cheng Hoe is already sweating on the fitness and availability of his two first choice starters.
It would not be an understatement to say that Malaysia controlled the match against Thailand as Milovan Rajevac side were less adventurous going forward than past Thai sides. It remains to be seen if the Serbian would employ the same tactic in a home game.
At the start of the second half, after witnessing Malaysia putting on the pressure in the first period, Rajevac opted to bring on the more defensive minded Pokkhao Anan in place of the more attacking qualities of Supachai Jaided.
Cheng Hoe gave an early indication into his tactics for the second leg which could suggests that Malaysia would be the ones playing on the counter attack as they go in seek of the all-important away goal.
"Hopefully Sumareh and Syazwan Andik can recover because both of them have tight hamstring. We need to patient since we're playing away. We're playing good entertaining football but at the same time we need to score."
"I think that Thailand will not make much changes at Rajamangala where we need to focus when defending but we will also need to go on the attack if we want to get a positive result there. In Bangkok, we will have to absorb the pressure but I feel that my players can go there and surprise people.
"I believe if we continue the same way, we will get the goal we want in Thailand," he added.
The second leg of the semi-final between Thailand and Malaysia will take place on December 5 at Rajamangala Stadium.
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